Demystifying the embassy citizen relationship
Newspaper Column

Demystifying the embassy citizen relationship

By Babajide Alabi

A lot has been written about the relationship of Nigerians in Diaspora with their home embassies and high commissions. The thorny issue most times is the fact that Nigerian embassies’ officials have little or no regards for its citizens. While it is a known fact that Nigerians generally are maltreated by foreign countries embassies in their own domain, it is double jeopardy for the Diasporans. Because the home embassies abroad do not fare any better.

Many times Nigerian embassy staff are accused of imposing ‘systematic’ hardships  on citizens. Some of the staff have been reported to have deliberately made things difficult for fellow countrymen. No individual or personality is singled out among the officials as the ambassadors and high commissioners. It is common knowledge that some of these ambassadors act in their posts as lords in their own rights.

Most detach themselves from the citizens they are supposed to represent. They live in their own world, enjoying the diplomatic status without responsibilities. These claims are not far-fetched or made up stories. Majority of Nigerians in Diaspora have one or two stories about these embassies and high commissions. If they have not had a negative experience directly, they know scores of people who had. And trust Nigerians in passing stories around.

Nigerian-embassyWe cannot blame anybody for this. These high commissions and embassies are mostly operated as replica of the Nigeria civil service. The only difference is the setting. Stories are not short of how Nigerians in Diaspora have to “pull and push” before they can get anything out of the embassies. To some, it is the inconvenience of time wasting, bureaucratic processes and sheer disregard for best practices that keep them away from these embassies.

This is understandable for a Diasporan who sees how government agencies are run in his country of residence. But to his disappointment at the Nigerian corner of the city capital, it is still a  hard job getting anything done.

Before the introduction of the digital passport, diasporans were most disposed towards sending their Nigerian passports to Lagos, Sokoto or Enugu for renewal instead of facing the ordeal at the embassies or high commissions. They would rather obtain a proxy passport in Nigeria than spend days waiting on the bureaucratic embassy officials.

This is further extended to the plight of Nigerians in jail houses abroad with no consular support? The view is Nigerians in Diaspora are better off accepting their fate and live their pains secretly than try to access consular services. You cannot blame the diasporans for demanding “so much”. They see what is obtainable in other countries’ embassies. We see how British and American embassies respond to the needs of their citizens in or out of trouble in foreign countries. Do we not see how they offer consular and legal services, even to convicted drug dealers traffickers?

Majority of Nigerians in Diaspora do not know the names of their Ambassadors or High Commissioners. You cannot blame them. The apathy is so much that most do not care to even know where the embassies or high commissions are located. With this display of non-challance, one tends to wonder who these embassies do serve.

In the first eight years of living in the United Kingdom, I had no contact with the commission. When I had my daughter in 2005, there was a conscious effort on my part not to apply for a Nigerian passport for her. This decision was taken for so many reasons, principal among which was that I lived in Edinburgh, which is quite a distance from London. For anything to be done I had to go to London, and going by the stories I had heard, I concluded I would not only incur costs on travel and accommodation, I had to make provisions for a few “side orders”. Probably I should have gone to confirm or otherwise the negative stories about getting anything from the High Commission.

But true to the saying “no condition is permanent”, good news are coming from some of these embassies. For a fact is the Nigerian High Commission in London.

Sometimes last month I heard the news that the Nigerian High Commissioner to UK, His Excellency, Dr Dalhatu Sarki Tafida, OFR, CFR, would be “moving office” to Glasgow for a Town Hall Meeting with Nigerians. I muttered under my breath “that’s a good development.” Not everyday do you get the news that your high commissioner would be putting himself up for questioning and “familiarisation”. In the Nigerian parlance, ambassadors or high commissioners are not expected to move from their comfort zone to see their “subjects”. It is meant to be the other way round.

This Town Hall meeting, an initiative of the Central Association of Nigerians in UK and the Nigerian Community Scotland, was a brilliant idea of bringing the activities of the High Commission to the doorsteps of Nigerians in Scotland. The Secretary General of the Nigerian Community Scotland, Mr Ayodeji Soboyede, like many Nigerians, could not hide his excitement about the programme.

He said the Town Hall meeting gave the opportunity “to network, add value to our community in Scotland, allow us interact with the High Commissioner and his team that run the Commission, ask questions and also get updates about the activities of the High Commission.”

It was therefore no surprise that the venue of the Town Hall meeting was packed with Nigerians from as all corners of UK. An event that was primarily organised for Nigerians in Scotland took a national turn as participants travelled from Wales, England and Northern Ireland.

It was a great opportunity to engage the High Commissioner. He and members of his delegation did not disappoint the audience as they answered topical questions ranging from the Chibok girls to accessibility to consular services in Scotland.

One vital success of this town hall was the ability of the High Commission to tell Nigerians what they do and how these services can be accessed. It was as if Nigerians had no idea of what benefits the high commission could be to them.

The meeting also afforded the high commission the opportunity to solicit the support of the community in Scotland. While they may be far away from London, they were assured they are always on the minds of the High Commissioner and his team. The event was a commendable one. A deviation from the norm that should be recommended to other Nigerian embassies and high commissions that have not yet imbibed this. It will make a difference in the citizen-government relationship.

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